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Soil governance entails the policies and strategies used, and the processes of decision-making by nation states and local governments on the use of soil. Globally, governance of the soil has been limited to an agricultural perspective due to increased food insecurity from the most populated regions on earth. The global soil partnership initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the EU hopes to establish links between agricultural productivity, climate change, ecosystem services in national and international soil policies.
Governing the soil requires international and national collaboration between governments, local authorities, industries and citizens to ensure implementation of coherent policies that encourage practices and methodologies that regulate usage of the resource to avoid conflict between users. In European Union environmental policies, soil is recognised as a non-renewable resource, however its governance is maintained at a national level, unlike other non-renewable and climate sensitive resources. In the developing world, soil governance is biased towards promoting sustainable agriculture and ensuring food security.
Governance of the soil differs from soil management, in that soil management involves practices and techniques used to increase and maintain soil fertility, structure, and carbon sequestration, among others. Soil management techniques are heavily utilised in agriculture, because of the need to regulate the various practices, such as tillage techniques, fertiliser application and crop rotation (among others) by the various stakeholders involved. The need to monitor and avoid the negative effects of agricultural land use such as soil erosion has formed the basis of the discourse and awareness on soil governance, and has also seen the emergence of science and technology as nexuses between soil management and governance. Soil governance mechanisms are usually encapsulated within the context of land governance, with little focus on urban and industrial soil governance especially in developing countries that have rapid urbanisation rates; thus, soil governance is highly interlinked with other atmospheric and anthropogenic processes which may contribute to the difficulty in distinguishing it as an entity.
Global Soil Governance
Changes in land use, population growth, and the impacts of climate change have led to a gradual process of soil degradation,. Soil degradation is a gradual process involving the natural and anthropogenic processes that result in the physical loss (erosion) and reduction in soil quality. The recognition of anthropogenic effects on soil degradation has influenced discourse of urban soil management, and formulation of policies by regional organisations. However, soil remains as the primary medium for food production, thus global soil governance is directed towards the impacts of soil degradation on food production and conflicts that arise between the need for human settlements and space available for food production. The impacts of climate change also contribute to the conflict because carbon dioxide emissions have progressively led to higher average global temperatures, which has led to an increase in soil degradation through erosion, increased salinity, and a reduction in the flora and fauna that contribute to its quality. The Global Soil Partnership (GSP) launched in 2011, is an initiative of the FAO and the European Commission that aims to… “ Support and facilitate joint efforts towards sustainable management of soil resources for food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation”; and implement the 1982 World Soil Charter. The World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (Rome, 1979), and the Plan of Action of the UN Conference on Desertification (Nairobi, 1977) to combat land degradation and desertification initiated international discourse on effective soil management and governance, however the initiatives were limited to the soil and its relation to agricultural productivity. Cognisant of the potential conflicts, the GSP hopes to create a nexus between “food security, soil health and ecosystem services” to encourage improvements in land and soil management. The GSP’s role as the global governing institution will be to facilitate the implementation of the world soil charter, and encourage favourable soil policies though “regional partnerships that…[include]… national institutions and networks working with soils in the different countries”. The success of the GSP is yet to be analysed, as it is still in its inception phases as an organisation thus it has not formally initiated any projects in accordance with its objectives.
The Global North South Divide
Soil Governance in the European Union
The United Nations Earth Summit Conference on Environment and Development catalysed the formation of E.U environmental policy into a policy that was centred on the environmental consequences of integration. The conference organised by the United Nations, saw the acceptance of various documents and charters governing the natural environment and sustainable development. In its inception phase E.U environmental policy was a reaction to normalise competition with the markets. Having a common policy would ensure that member states were bound to directives that would regulate their production methods thus affect production output and competitive advantage. Focus was directed on air pollution from industries, and other forms of tangible, measurable, and traceable pollution that could be isolated to an event or a process, such as acidification Swedish lakes in the 1970s and 1980s caused by high sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants. Such forms of pollution were often governed with bans, quotas and economic instruments such as taxes and fines. With improvements in technology, access and delivery of information and changes in global conceptualisation of the environment, E.U environmental policy has evolved to become more responsive and bespoke, and has also increased its scope to various sources and sinks of pollution. In 2006, the European Commission tabled a proposal to the European Parliament to establish a framework for soil protection within the union. Soil is recognised as a non-renewable resource because of its slow formation process, however, unlike other non-renewable resources within the E.U such as coal that have explicit policies governing extraction methods, trading and consumption, soil governance is contained within the contexts of environmental policies and regulation on various entities of the biosphere. The draft policy recognised that soil governance had been “scattered” in E.U legislation, and lacked a cohesive isolated framework, therefore governance and management of the same resource was open to interpretation depending on the main resource and industry policy in question. The policy sought to unify the “scattered” regulations because they lacked the mandate to “identify and cover all soil threats”. This view was supported by extensive consultation between stakeholders and the European commission that started in February 2003, and saw member states convey their support for a framework based on regional action in 2004. The framework was developed as a directive to member states; this form of legislation allows interpretation by stakeholders at national and local levels, and between networks thus complying with the Subsidiarity principle. The principle provides that EU political decisions must be implemented at the “the lowest possible administrative and political level, and as close to the citizens as possible”, unless in areas where action by individual countries is insufficient. It is under this principle that member states rejected the proposal to establish a framework for soil protection as the proposal argued that member states are unable to effectively monitor and manage their soils. Inconsistencies in national soil governance strategies and, classification and treatment of contaminants would disable the objectives of the proposal because of the complexities of trans-border soil pollution and management. Furthermore, soil degradation and mismanagement affects other environmental areas, and industries governed through E.U legislation such as water, biodiversity, and food production, thus it was deemed appropriate to have uniform legislation across all entities. Member states argued that soil management should not be negotiated at the European Regional level as they already had strong domestic policies regulating soil usage and management, therefore focus should be directed at strengthening local policies and regulatory institution. Consequently, the E.U does not have a cohesive soil governance policy and relies on environmental policies, and non-renewable resource policies and legislations of member states to guide utilisation, management and regulate pollutants of the soil.
Soil Governance in India
The agricultural sector is one of the main sectors in the Indian economy, in terms of employment. In 2010, the sector employed 58.2% of the nations workforce, and contributed 15.7% to the nations GDP. Cognisant of agriculture’s role in the economy, the 11th five-year economic plan that runs from 2007-2012 recognises the importance of proper soil management in agriculture. Soil degradation through excessive and miscalculated fertiliser use because of emphasis on increased output has led to nearly two-thirds of India’s farmlands to be classified as either degraded or sick. In attempts to increase knowledge on soils and soil management, the government of Gujarat initiated the Soil Health Cards Programme in 2006 that was “expected to bridge the gap between Scientists, agricultural extension workers, farmers and input-output dealers ”. The programme relies on technology to disseminate accountable and uncomplicated scientific information that is based on the farmers needs. Farmers take samples of their soil for analysis in a state run laboratory. Based on the sample, farmers get information on the soil mineral and water content, fertiliser application methods, and advice on what crops to grow. In the pilot scheme collected data was inputted into a web based information system that included the Internet, intranet and GSWAN (Gujarat State Wide Area Network) to build up the state, and national database on soil health. Increasing knowledge on soil management, increased output, and reduced costs for farmers and contributed to Gujarat’s agriculture growth rate that was three times the national growth rate in 2009. The success of the scheme has facilitated its implementation at a national level under the Ministry of Agriculture. Each state and union territory is responsible for the set-up and management of the soil testing facilities and maintaining the state soil database so that it is uniform and standardised. The testing, advisory and issuance processes involved are at multi-governance levels involving stakeholders from the private and public sectors. Government approved NGO’s, community associations’ farmers, the state administration and national administration are all involved in the scheme at different levels. The process begins with the farmers assisted by various NGO’s and community groups and involves interactions with more NGO’s and state officers at higher levels, as they are responsible for soil sample testing. The impacts of increased global temperatures have had negative effects towards effective soil management techniques in the developing world. Changes in precipitation patterns and an increase in extreme events such as floods and drought have exacerbated issues such as desertification and soil erosion. The effects of such events are further aggravated by resource-deficient farmers and government officials who lack skills to prepare and manage their soils for disasters, and end up relying on relief aid for sustenance. Addressing the Impacts of desertification is a complex multi-level process because of the social, environmental and economic factors. The Republic of India ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in 1984, and has since instituted the National Programme to Combat Desertification that utilises an integrated and holistic approach at governing the soil. Through various ministries the national programme aspires to implement the UNCCD by increasing capacity in soil and soil water management, improving access to micro-credit with a focus on women and marginalised groups, promoting alternative energy supplies to reduce reliance on wood increasing soil monitoring and strengthening legislation regarding land management in industrial and mining activities.
Impacts of Industrialisation and Urbanisation on Soil Governance
In the developing world industrialisation and urbanisation are emerging as significant contributors to land and soil degradation. Lack of sufficient knowledge in soil management and disregard for the environment has been identified as key reasons affecting urban soil degradation. Industrialisation alters the chemical aspects of the soil through pollution of heavy metals and effluents. Construction and landfills in urban areas affect soil through compaction and excavation, which affect natural processes such as water purification and storage. In the developing and developing world governance of soils in urban areas requires bespoke policies because of the nature of urban and industrial developments in the cities. In Central Europe, governance of urban soils is facilitated by the urban soil management strategy that aims to design applicable soil management strategies in select European cities. Through networks created with universities and municipal authorities the project aims to research into and develop an interdisciplinary approach to manage urban soils,. In the developing world, urban and industrial soil governance is linked to sustainable development of cities to address urban poverty and responsible land use through effective waste management. Often, developing countries lack resources to implement policies governing settlements and industries, thus the soil and water are often heavily polluted. Urban soil management uses an interdisciplinary approach to protect biodiversity reliant upon the soil and land, reduce pollution from industrial effluents, and increase resilience of the soil to stresses such as compaction from construction.
The Role of Science and Technology on Soil Governance
The global soil map is a global consortium between academic, regional and national scientific institutions coordinated by stakeholders according to the respective regions. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote sensing and emerging technologies a global soil map will be created to represent different soil types. The consortium is led by the ISRIC-World Soil Information, whose mandate to increase knowledge on soils through data collection and dissemination and development of technologies and methodologies for digital soil mapping. GIS is used to display, analyse and collate soil data and processes, and also identify different types of soils through mapping and web-based software. Soil Science is used in tandem with GIS to identify individual soil properties applicable to agricultural and urban soil management. The Soil Health Card Programme in India utilises soil science to advise farmers on fertiliser usage and crop rotations and records the data on a national network which can be used to map different soil types across the country.
Criticisms of Soil Governance
Exponential population growth has led to discourses on maintaining food security through increased agricultural output. Often emphasis is limited to increasing intensity of output through more intensive use of fertilisers, machinery, pesticides and other inputs. Because soil is the main medium in agriculture, soil governance has maintained a strong agricultural perspective. Urban soil governance is crucial in developing countries because of rapid urbanisation and changing land use in rural areas. Industrial activities such as mining dramatically alter the landscape and soil through generation of overburden and excavation; however governance remains biased towards agriculture and food production. The effects of climate change vis-à-vis desertification and increased soil erosion are not yet addressed in cohesive global policies, yet the scope and nature of the problem is global. The establishment of the global soil partnership in 2011, has recognised the need for an interdisciplinary approach to soil governance, though its mandate remains to increase food production.
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